I never was particularly linear, and my life as a mother of three has curved and twisted me even more, so that I spin through most days instead of stride. My attention darts constantly from kid to kid to kid and back again, then circles round to my never-complete list of minutiae waiting to be addressed.
This pattern appears in larger areas of my life, too. My hobbies, less lifetime pursuits and more obsessions of the month, follow a cyclical pattern as I flit from one to the next.
If my husband were interested in welcoming a bit of peace into his life, perhaps he would take to viewing this personality trait of mine as something akin to the Texas weather: if he’s gritting his teeth as I yammer on about the feng shui implications of the magnetic orientation of our house, he need only wait a month, maybe a week or two even, and I will have moved on to another obsession, concerns about the flow of qi a memory.
This is nothing I’m proud of. Feng shui, painting, home decorating, gardening, cooking, Motherpeace tarot, collage, Eastern spirituality, tai chi—my obsessions come and go, making me, what? A dabbler? A dilettante? Nothing flattering.
But in recent years I have watched in relief as one interest stuck: writing. My ambition waxed and waned along the way, shifting form several times, but I found solace in the fact that the words were always there, rattling around in my head, seeking a way out. At least something inside me was committed and constant, I thought. At least something was true.
So when, some months ago, the words abruptly ceased, I tried not to sound the alarm. It was Christmas then, after all, the season when to-do lists sap all the creative right out of me. But then the new year dawned, with no new batch of words attached. I could no longer hold the worry at bay—I was neglecting my blog, but even worse, all my urgency I’d been feeling to write my book had simply vanished.
Apart from my husband and kids, not a single part of my adult life has ever come close to feeling as right as the time I spent working on that book, even though my writing was crap and I had no idea what I was doing. When the words were coming, I knew I had finally found what I was meant to do. So why, oh why, did the words go away? So soon (lifespan-wise) after they arrived in the first place? And the big question was, Will they ever come back?
About a month ago, I started asking myself some critical questions about this mysterious internal silence. Other obsessions had stepped up to fill the empty space, of course. I had taken to practicing on my son’s new keyboard for more than an hour a day. I’ve never played the piano before. While the music was beautiful(ish) and the practice was soothing, it seemed odd. What was I doing? Even for me, this interest had come out of nowhere. I started to suspect diversionary tactics were at work somehow. One part of me, it seemed, was trying to distract the rest of me from something. What was up with that?
Around the same time, an offhand comment from my oldest son got me thinking about my first and only oil painting, a close-up of a single lantana flower. I spent forever on this painting several years ago, anguishing over every detail. In the end I wasn’t happy with it, and I abandoned the whole pastime as a result. But my son’s appreciation for the painting caused me to take another look. It wasn’t so bad when I considered that it was my first painting. Why did I expect perfection on the first attempt? Was I really so delusional?
It was then that I saw the pattern. Yes, I move in circles because that’s the way I work, but perhaps there is some significance to when I jump from one obsession to the next. Perhaps there is a moment when the uncertainty, self-doubt, self-criticism, and fear reach their tipping point and I bail before anything “bad” can happen. With that painting, it was the petals. Their texture got all jagged and harsh, and I could never smooth them to my satisfaction. And that was it. No trying again. Just moving on.
This was not a welcome discovery about myself (although it did make me want to paint again). I value perseverance, but here my actions were not reflecting this. Even worse, however, was my nagging suspicion that I might uncover more traces of this pattern if I started looking.
I turned with trepidation to memories of my novel, and asked the question, Had I run away out of fear, and if so, what had me running scared? No answer came readily. So I thought back to the last thing I wrote, and in an instant I knew what went wrong, why the words left me all at once: I had written a sex scene, the first I’d attempted.
Of course that’s what it was. Funny that it wasn’t obvious from the start.
My writing that day had been total crap, but nothing new there, so that alone couldn’t have been what set me off. No, it was the quality of writing plus the subject matter that had me so terrified. It’s difficult enough to write about sex; it’s embarrassing. I have parents. I have kids. They all come equipped with eyes for reading and a brain for comprehending. Ugh. But then you dump a heaping of trite prose into the mix and suddenly it gets a lot worse: I’m writing porn. OK, soft-core porn, but still porn. And here it is, the thing that shut all those words in my head up these past months: I DON’T KNOW IF I HAVE IT IN ME TO WRITE PORN.
In theory, I’m good with including sex in my novel. Actually, it’s a requirement. There’s this whole theme about awakening, and considering my theory of how creativity and sexuality are intrinsically linked, sexuality has to be a part of my story. But if my Serious Novel turns out to completely suck and my ideas of awakening never rise above the level of a Lifetime midnight feature (or Cinemax, perhaps), then I’m suddenly in some controversial and cringe-worthy waters. Mother of three, author of cheesy sex scenes? Shocking! And hilarious!
I’m not so good with controversy, or being fearless. I’m way too head down, low profile, chicken shit for all that. I don’t want to piss anybody off, rock any boats, or really, call any attention to myself of any kind.
Or do I?
Isn’t that what all this is about, come to think of it? Expressing myself? The fifth chakra and all that? And when I say express myself, I’m not talking about some “perfect” version of myself. I tried that once in the suburbs and it ended in a 47 page divorce decree. No, I’m talking about my real self, whatever that is, good or bad, glorious or humiliating.
That’s it then. I’m afraid of opening up the crazy parts of me for all the world to see. And yet I need to do it. It is, in fact, the whole point of writing this book. Ah, a classic dilemma!
I think, perhaps, that some baby steps might be appropriate here. Just like with my painting, I can’t expect myself to achieve success without practice, and neither can I expect great acts of courage from the woman dressed as Little Miss Mousypants. I must hang a metaphorical pair of underwear or two out on the line to flap in the breeze; to get used to the way that feels, knowing everyone can see my stretched out, ratty panties; and after the color has drained from my cheeks, to realize that it wasn’t so bad, really.
This plan was more or less the impetus behind my last post. It’s not so much that I harbor a great resentment towards the Catholic Church in particular, or organized religion in general, it’s just that airing my somewhat controversial (in this religious state anyway) views on religion is actually a baby step toward bravery for me. It’s easier than what I really want to say, which is a tangled, emotional jumble of hurt, confusion, clarity, and forgiveness about the dance between women and men.
I hesitate to utter this in tones much louder than a whisper, but I believe my baby steps may be working. I held my breath after publishing that last post, but no anvil fell from the sky. I followed that up with a few obnoxiously-in-your-face comments on Facebook (about abortion, of all the taboo subjects!), sure that I was going about this the wrong way but not knowing what else to do. A few words started to bubble up, then, slowly. Eventually, there were enough of them for me to write this post. And then, the most welcome sign of all: while finishing this post, words for my beloved book have been trickling in, returning home. I don’t know how long they’ll stay, but I’m thrilled to have them, regardless.
One of my ongoing philosophies is that the best way to be brave is to fully accept that my worst fear may very well happen. (I have been called pessimistic.) So does this mean I have to accept that I may be devoting all my creative energies to the creation of a shitty soft-core porn novel? Oh man. Wish me luck.
© Amy Daniewicz